The Dominican Republic is full of magical places and Santo Domingo is among them. Standing as the capital of the country and one of the oldest cities, you know it's going to be good.
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For all you ILP volunteers out there, Santo Domingo may seem far away from Puerto Plata on the map (I mean, it's completely on the other side of the country), but it's actually only a few hours away by bus (and bus tickets are very, very cheap). We've got some tips to help you plan your trip to Santo Domingo so that you get the very most out of it!
- Our Favorite Things To Do
- +Nearby Adventures
- Where To Stay
- How Long Should I Plan For?
- How To Get To Santo Domingo
Our Favorite Things To Do
Los Tres Ojos National Park
While this is not actually in the city, it's a can't miss spot ... I mean some people head to Santo Domingo specifically so they can come see park. The national park has three (hence the name) limestone caverns all which feature a beautiful lake. You can't swim in the water, but you can get a boat and tour around the caverns.
The park is best reached by taxi or Uber (just snag an Uber from downtown Santo Domingo) and the caves are open daily from 8:30-5:30. Plan for the Los Tres Ojos National Park excursion to take up about half of your day, so I recommend going in the morning so that you can explore Santo Domingo the rest of the day without worrying about time.
Get more info by clicking the link above; it's full of details you'll want to know.
Another highlight to Santo Domingo that you can't miss this, especially if you're a history buff. This area marks where Columbus settled in the New World — he walked these streets! The streets are full of Spanish influence and we can't get enough of the white architecture against the red brick. Zonal Colonial is such a unique aspect to the Dominican Republic. In contrast to the rest of the country's landscape, it almost feels like you've stepped into a different country! It's a beautiful space, full of around 300 buildings to admire.
The zone is about 11 small blocks plus a little coastal area. It's easy to get to, no matter where you stay your hostel can help you know how to get here.
Once you arrive, you'll be exploring on foot! Some of the cutest streets are pedestrian only, and you're going to want to take tons of photos, shop from vendors on the street, and stop in cute little cafes for lunch — so just plan on walking it. Once you get closer to the coast, you can also rent a cute little bike to explore with — There's usually bike rentals down by the Plaza de la Hispanidad, which is another spot I recommend seeing.
There are locals that will guide you around Zona Colonial, explaining historical sites if that's more your speed. Or, you can just DIY it and get a bit blissfully lost (like I did!). I loved just wandering around the zone and going at my own pace, but both options work great.
Make sure to keep a bit of cash on hand. While most sites in the area are free, there are some museums you pay to get into (around $1-$2) and there's some ice cream vendors which is perfect for those hot, humid days.
Don't miss the Ozama Fort which was built in Columbus' lifetime.
We also love taking time to walk up the Calle Del Conde, which is a gorgeous pedestrian only street (keep an eye out for draping bougainvillea flowers on your walk). This street is also filled with vendors selling art, souvenirs, and clothing.
Shop At Mercado Modelo
Mercado Modelo is another spot our volunteers have been loving. It's a really big flea + souvenir market full of great finds. Make sure you bargain to get good deals and look around to compare prices!
It's just about a 10-15 minute walk from the center of Zona Colonial, so if you plug it into your Google Maps it's pretty easy to get there. Or you could grab an Uber if you'd rather.
Dance With The Locals
If you can, plan to be in Santo Domingo on a Sunday night. A past ILP volunteer shared this tip and we are all about getting into the culture like this:
"If you love dancing you HAVE TO GO to their Sunday night party in the Monestario de San Francisco (in Zona Colonial). Literally everyone goes and there’s this tiny dance floor where everyone squeezes onto to dance. It was my favorite thing I did there and don’t worry about not knowing how to bachata because they will teach you!"
Here's more info on TripAdvisor about it.
Visit The Botanical Garden
Have a relaxing afternoon walking around this sprawling garden (known as the Jardin Botanical Nacional if you know a bit of Spanish). It's one of the highest recommended things to do according to our ILP volunteers. Don't miss the Japanese Tea Gardens, it's one of the highlights. There is also a little train ride with English narration you can ride if you need a bit of a break from walking around in the heat.
Address: Av República de Colombia, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Cost: $5 USD
Visit The Temple
If you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you can come visit the temple in Santo Domingo. The easiest thing is to grab an Uber to the temple. Here's the local address and you can visit this site to look up temple times. Your ward in your local city may also be planning temple trips to Santo Domingo you can join. Check this blog out to see more details on how to get there!
Address: Av Simón Bolívar 825, Santo Domingo 10106, Dominican Republic
Since Santo Domingo is a hub for the rest of the island, lots of ILP volunteers stop over in Santo Domingo before hopping over to a couple of other spots farther east. Some of these are a day trip, while others are worth 2-3 days of your time.
The beaches are not located directly in the city, but with an Uber you can get to some beautiful beaches. Boca Chica best is a favorite among the Santo Domingo locals. It is protected by a big coral reef and the water is very still — it's about a 45 minute taxi ride to the east of Santo Domingo, so factor that into your itinerary.
Beaches that are also to the east are Juan Dolio or Playa Caribe.
Since the beaches aren't that accessible, we suggest spending your time in Santo Domingo proper, and tacking on another trip to a better beach (maybe like the Island Saona on Bayahibe?) instead on another vacation. The city of Santo Domingo is really known for stunning architecture and history, so it makes sense to spend most of your time seeing that. If it was us, we'd just enjoy the city part of Santo Domingo and then after use it as a jumping off point to get to beach destinations that are further out.
Found right on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, Punta Cana is a stretch of gorgeous beaches, lined with pretty all-inclusive resorts. It's a fun place to relax for a couple of days, where you can take day trips to swim in this gorgeous sink hole, or take a trip to Island Saona or Island Catalina. Punta Cana is about 3 hours away from Santo Domingo.
Get your all-in-one-guide for Punta Cana here.
An absolute favorite spot, unless you don't love beautiful beaches and the chance to hang out with some starfish. You'll need to head to Bayahibe before taking a boat out to Saona, but it's a perfect day trip from Punta Cana or from Santo Domingo.
We have info about making the trip to Island Saona here.
Another favorite island is Island Catalina; it's a bit of bus ride from where our ILP volunteers are living, but lots closer if you're jumping off from Punta Cana or even Santo Domingo (though, Punta Cana is closer). We love the snorkeling around Catalina.
Some volunteers think that Barahona has the most beautiful beaches in all the Dominican Republic ... sounds like you'll need to check it out for yourself to see if that rumor is true! Barahona is about a three hour bus ride from Santo Domingo, making it an easy day trip or longer.
Where To Stay
Deciding where to stay depends a lot on your budget. Are you splurging on this trip and want somewhere nicer to stay? Do you prefer to spend as little as possible on the hostel, so you can use your money elsewhere? If you're on a budget, check out Hostelworld or considering splitting an AirBnB with your ILP group.
We recommend staying as close to the Zona Colonial area as you can. It's just easier because that's where you'll want to be for everything and it's always just safer to be where the tourists are rather than wandering.
Island Life Hostel
Several previous volunteers have recommended Island Life Hostel it has a rad location and is a fun, chill place to say. Dorms start at just $16 a night.
This colorful hostel has great reviews, a cute little pool, and a great location so you can get into the city easily. Dorm rooms start at $15 a night.
Apartment In Santo Domingo
This AirBnb couldn't get better. It has A/C , sleeps up to six people, and is only a 10 minute walk into the city. For only $45 a night you can't go wrong.
This cute place is also a killer deal. It sleeps up to four, has A/C, and is super clean. It's only $36 a night which means more money for yummy food in the city!
How Long Should I Plan For?
Santo Domingo can be done in just a couple of days, though you can also plan on spending a 3-4 day trip here by combining it with another destination on a longer vacation if you have time. Places like Punta Cana, Starfish Island, or even Samana would be close enough to pair with a trip to Santo Domingo. Basically, whatever you have time for, you will have plenty to do in Santo Domingo!
If you're volunteering in the DR with ILP, you'll have weekends off (every Saturday and Sunday), plus you'll also get some vacation time. Since you can do Santo Domingo in just a couple of days, it makes for a perfect weekend trip, leaving your vacation days open to explore other places in the DR.
You can easily grab a bus after you're finished teaching on Friday and spend a dreamy weekend in Santo Domingo. Perfect.
How To Get To Santo Domingo
Caribe Tours is the way to go. From Puerto Plata, you can book a bus with Caribe tours. You’ll travel in big air conditioned buses which is nice. It’s 300 pesos to get to Santo Domingo, then you can use Santo Domingo as a jumping off point to reach a bunch of other destinations (for about 350 pesos). What a steal.
Visit their website here.
The bus ride is about 3.5 hours from where ILP volunteers will be living.
How To Get Around Santo Domingo
There are three ways to get around Santo Domingo — public buses, gua guas or taxis + Ubers.
The public buses have designated stops you can hop on (they also have AC, so bonus) but they tend to be a bit hard to figure out, schedule wise. Gua guas are privately owned buses that are cheap and are more flexible (no AC though). To get one, you'll have to stand on the road and hail one down instead of waiting at a specific stop.
Taxis are everywhere, but aren't metered and you decide on a price beforehand. Make sure you get a fair price before jumping in the back (if you walk away, they will bring you back and give you a better deal).
Uber is even better because you have the price in stone before you even jump in the car (and they're often cheaper than taxis). We recommend you use Uber to help you get around unless you want to tackle public transit or risk taxis.
You know what's better than a vacation to the DR?
A semester abroad in the Dominican Republic! Just imagine four whole months of living in this beautiful country and volunteering with the International Language Programs. Learn more about becoming a volunteer for ILP in the DR!